Leigh Van Der Horst, a Mornington Peninsula mum of 4, lost her beloved mother to cancer in 2008. Then a 32 year old mother to three young boys, Leigh felt as though her world had fallen apart. After picking up the pieces and completely re-building who she was, Leigh set about creating a book called ‘Without My Mum’ for others who had experienced a similar loss in the hope that they would not feel alone in their grief. Leigh self-published her book last year and after a wonderful response from the public, Leigh signed ‘Without My Mum’ with traditional Australian publisher, ‘Black Inc Books’ late last year.

Leigh now proudly hosts a private Facebook group for motherless women called ‘Without My Mum’ and runs meet-ups in Melbourne to give women the chance to connect and support each other in person.

An excerpt from ‘Without My Mum’ by Leigh Van Der Horst

Often I would wake exhausted. I could only assume that I had dreamed of Mum, as I felt as though I had cried and cried during my sleep. I would then spend hours processing my emotions, trying to lift myself from the pits of grief to feel somewhat happy. I just wanted to be with Mum. I often wondered where she was and what she was doing. I wished I could just spend one more day with her.

22 October 2008

Oh the peaks and troughs. Last night I had one of those ‘no warning’ meltdowns. I cried and sobbed like I did when my mum had just died. Sadly, my unhappiness last night triggered a wave of built-up tears from my boys too.

Kye went off quietly to his room, so I went to see if he was all right. I found him sitting on his bed. He looked beat. I asked if he was OK and he said, ‘I miss Nanny’. I hugged him so hard and told him that I did too. Joshi came in and said, ‘It’s OK, she will be back soon’. Kye replied by yelling, ‘NO! She will never come back!’. Off I went again. It’s in these situations that you can literally feel your heart hurt, ache and break.

I managed to calm Kye down, but then I heard Jack sobbing in another room with Tim. I went to him and told him it was OK to cry. I put Jack in our bed and got ready for bed myself. We cuddled each other, had a solid cry and then
fell asleep, exhausted. When, if ever, will this
get any easier?

Not only was I trying to process my own grief, but it had become very clear that my boys were suffering too. Their little brains could not fathom what had happened. I blamed myself, as I didn’t think that I had prepared them for the loss of their ‘Nanny’. I’d been very careful to protect them emotionally from the ups and downs of Mum’s cancer journey, but perhaps I hadn’t given them the opportunity to properly say goodbye to Mum. All I knew was that, at
the time, I thought that I was doing my best. There was no way of knowing how it was all going to unfold.

21 November 2008

I think I may need to find a grief counsellor. I need to say and express so much—to cry, yell, vent and scream ‘IT’S NOT FAIR!’ 100 times over. I think I will gain a lot from letting it all out and will, hopefully, also get some good advice as to how I can turn things around.

My emotions are always sitting in my throat and this is weighing me down. I’m smoking a lot and drinking quite a bit of alcohol. I don’t want to live life like this anymore. I am not being a very good role model for my boys and I know Mum would want me to be happier and healthier than I currently am. I feel as though I am making her sad by being so sad myself. So silly—even when she is no longer here, I want to make her proud. I loved her so much.

I remember that when I was little, I would lie by Mum’s feet and kiss the soles of her shoes. Sure this may seem like a strange thing to do, but she was clearly my hero from a very young age.

13 December 2008

I’ve had a reality check—one that I desperately needed. Last night, I went out with two of my best friends and I had way too much to drink. My friends saw that I was in a bad way so they dragged me out of the club we were at and flagged down a taxi. I remember sitting in the cab feeling so, so sad.

Once we safely arrived at my friend’s house,
I just broke down. I cried and sobbed. I let go of all the torture swirling in my head and my heart. My friends cried with me and allowed me the safety of their trusting friendship to just release all of my sadness. I’m so grateful to have such amazing women close to me—who are like my sisters—to help me through this tough phase.

Now, the morning after, I feel so sick. I’m sick of feeling so sad. I’m making a promise with myself right now that I will be more kind. I owe it to my family to start cheering up. I have to try and want to feel alive again. I have to shake off the feeling of guilt that I carry about wanting to be happy. It is time to take some responsibility for my emotions and move forward.

As a mother I didn’t have the luxury of continually staying up late and drinking too much, then waking up each morning feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. This was how I had been existing, but now I had to take positive steps to begin the healing process. Making these changes was essential for my family and for myself.

I searched high and low for a grief counsellor. I knew that this next step was an important one and would force me to face the many emotions that needed addressing. Yet it was rather frightening to know that I was going to open
up about my mother’s death and discuss what I had been through. It was not a case of wanting to, however, it was simply that I had to. My own health and the hearts of my family members depended on it.

Find Leigh at www.leighvloves.com
Instagram: @leighvanderhorst
Twitter: @leighvloves
Facebook: www.facebook.com/sixbythebay

‘Without My Mum’ is available in all major stores and bookstores and online worldwide.